Saturday, February 2, 2008

What Was the Judge's Reasoning?

Another question I hear frequently from clients is, "Why did the Judge rule that way?" That seems to have come up quite a bit lately.

Usually, the answer is, "I don't know."

In Texas, and probably all states, a trial court rarely announces reasons for their decisions. People often expect long written opinions explaining the judge's reasoning, but that usually only happens in appeals courts or on TV shows. Judges don't have to explain their reasoning, so they don't do it. Basically, judges don't give explanations for their decisions for several reasons.

  • They probably want to avoid arguments with parties or attorneys. There's nothing to discuss if the reasoning is undisclosed. Often when a decision is announced after a hearing, one or both of the parties is angry, and it may be better to make a brief announcement of the decision and then let them cool down.

  • They want to avoid reversal, so they don't want to give a clear target. Judges have a lot of discretion in making many of their decisions. The appellate rules for reviewing decisions favor upholding whatever the current order is.

  • Judges have a lot of discretion in making rulings. It would take an extremely erroneous decision to cause it to be reversible. Judges like to use their discretion and not have it questioned.

Occasionally, a judge will discuss the reasons for a decision with the attorneys for both parties. Sometimes, the judge will tell the parties some or all of the reasons for the decision. After a hotly contested hearing on some issue, it is unlikely that the judge will give detailed explanations.

Although I would also like to know the reasons for some decisions, I understand the value of not detailing the reasons for decisions. I have sat as a temporary Associate Judge in Tarrant County and I had to make and announce decisions in cases. Not giving the reasons makes sense for me in many cases. In a few cases, it may be beneficial for one or both parties to learn why the judge ruled as she did, but the judge can decide whether to make the announcement.

Bottom Line: It's strictly up to the judge as to whether we can learn the reasons for a judge's decision. Most of the time, we just won't know.

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